Every Monday throughout the College Basketball Season, I will be giving out my Top 25 teams in the country. These rankings will be based on not only wins and your team's current resume but also, how much trust and belief I have in them going forward, coaching, depth and more!
Here is last week's poll, and now let's get to this week:
1. Auburn (18-1)
On Saturday, the college basketball world got a front row seat to what exactly Bruce Pearl has been building at Auburn since he arrived in 2014. Fans started camping out in front of Auburn Arena on Friday night, which led to an unbelievable atmosphere, helping Auburn earn the victory over Kentucky. Bruce Pearl stated after the game that “Auburn is a football school, but also an everything school.” This is an attitude that many future and present Athletic Directors and head coaches should use when starting to rebuild a program. The energy of Bruce Pearl has rubbed off on an Auburn program that was irrelevant in the national landscape prior to his arrival. In the game, despite trailing by four at the half Auburn was able to hit another gear that not many other teams in the country would be able to match. Auburn’s resume is too loaded to keep them away from the No. 1 spot in these rankings as they now have victories over Kentucky, LSU, Alabama, and Loyola Chicago. With a star in Jabari Smith surrounded by so many good players like Walker Kessler, Allen Flanigan, Wendell Green and KD Johnson around him, this team fits together so well. Playing in a conference as good as the SEC, will really help Auburn prepare for just how difficult the NCAA Tournament will be, but there is no doubt about it now that these Tigers are the No. 1 team in the country.
2. Gonzaga (15-2)
The Bulldogs were successful in their only appearance on the floor this past week, as they earned a 78-62 lead over a solid San Francisco team. San Francisco has been able to compete with Gonzaga better than most WCC teams over the past few years and that continued, as they were only down by three points at the half. However, Gonzaga used 20+ point efforts from both Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren in the frontcourt to secure the victory. Even though there was never really a moment where you felt San Francisco was winning the game, the fact that Gonzaga actually had to play a competitive game in the second half, is something they have much of last year. With the Zags being a little under the radar compared to last, the hope is the results can also change and a National Championship s on the horizon. With the experience of Andrew Nembhard and Timme, plus the emergence of Holmgren along with offensive contributors Julian Strawther and Anton Watson, there is no reason why these Bulldogs can’t get back to the Natty and take it home.
3. Arizona (16-1)
Although Arizona is out west, and many people around college basketball aren’t watching their games due to the late start time, that is still not an excuse for how little attention they’re getting. Following Sunday’s blowout win over California, Arizona is now 16-1 overall and 6-0 in the Pac 12 just one year after letting go of Sean Miller. First year head coach Tommy Lloyd has come in right away and has done a really good job taking advantage of the talent that Sean Miller left behind, using a more modern offense, based on ball movement that was a staple at Gonzaga. In addition, Lloyd did a great job in the transfer portal to put together his bench by bringing in a handful of high major transfers that include Pelle Larsson (Utah), Oumar Ballo (Gonzaga) and Justin Kier (Georgia). It was Ballo, who came to Tucson along with Llyod, from Gonzaga who had a career high 21 points against Stanford and followed it up with 14 points against California. If Arizona had one weakness going into this week, it would have been bench play but with the play of Ballo and consistent toughness shown by Larsson, the bench can easily be considered a strength. One downside of playing in this year's edition of the Pac 12 is, unless your game is against USC or UCLA, then most likely it will be considered a game you should win. The good news is, the Wildcats will see those two teams three times in the next two weeks - starting with a visit to Pauley Pavilion on Tuesday night.
4. Baylor (17-2)
After what was a bad week of basketball, Baylor was able to bounce back from their first two losses of the season in a big way. Without All American candidate James Akinjo on Tuesday, Baylor was able to go into Morgantown, West Virginia and leave with a big win over the Mountaineers. Throughout the first few months of the season every time Baylor faced a deficit or any real adversity, they were able to respond in a big way, and eventually just found a way to get back into the game. Early in the West Virginia game, there was a quick feeling that Baylor would be in trouble with the lack of Akinjo, but sophomore guard LJ Cryer stepped up with 25 points. In their win on Saturday against Oklahoma, the Bears were able to take advantage of a controversial flagrant foul call, after Oklahoma made a nice comeback to even the game, after Baylor got off to the early lead. These responses to adversity are something that Baylor did not do in their losses last week against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, as we saw a different Baylor team in those games, as we saw for the first 2 and a half months of the season. Even without the services of future first round pick Jeremy Sochan, it was a productive week for the Bears as they enter the heart of Big 12 play.
5. Kansas (16-2)
While many were locked into the NFL playoffs on Saturday, the Jayhawks were able to put together a possible season-changing victory over their in-state rival Kansas State. After trailing by 16 points at the half, Kansas was able to outscore Kansas State 44-25 to lead to the victory. This is just days after, Kansas was able to go into Oklahoma and beat the Sooners in a back-and-forth affair. Against Oklahoma, early Big 12 Player of the Year Favorite and All-American Candidate Ochai Agbjai suffered a wrist injury midway through the first half and didn’t score until there was 5:30 remaining in the game. Despite only finishing with 10 points, his layup with just under a minute remaining put the Jayhawks up by 2. In addition, Ochai hit what was the game winning shot against Kansas State on Saturday, to give Kansas the lead for good with about seven seconds to play to secure the victory for good. There is a certain toughness needed to win these types of games on the road and that is exactly what a Bill Self coached possess not only this year, but so many times in years past. With Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson also contributing in big time ways against Oklahoma, there is some solid momentum on the side of the Jayhawks heading into their big clash on Monday Night against Texas Tech at Allen Fieldhouse.
6. Houston (17-2)
It is time for Kelvin Sampson to start seriously entering the National Coach of the Year conversation. Following their 79-36 victory over East Carolina on Saturday, Houston improved to 6-0 in American Conference Play and have now won nine games in a row. The win streak comes immediately following season-ending injuries to Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark, arguably the team's two best players. Just one year after making it to the Final Four and losing multiple players to the NBA along with the injuries this year, Houston is right back in the Top 10 and has real aspirations to get back to the Final Four. In the absence of Sasser, Texas Tech transfer Kyler Edwards is becoming the guy for the Cougars as he had 25 points in the victory on Saturday. This is a kid who once contributed 12 points off the bench in the National Championship and has a ton of big game experience. In addition, Guard Jamal Shead is playing like a 1st team All-Conference guard, and senior forward Fabian White is playing the best basketball of his career. Considering the amount of talent that Houston has lost and the Cougars not skipping a beat, the only explanation is the elite culture of the program that Kelvin Sampson has built. With Memphis, Wichita State and Central Florida all underachieving, it is reasonable to think these Cougars will cruise to an American Athletic Conference Title.
7. Purdue (15-3)
The Boilers played in two of the biggest games over the course of this past week, and both came down to the absolute wire. Purdue was able to go into Illinois on Martin Luther King’s Day and leave with a victory over the Illini, but also fell at Assembly Hall on Thursday against Indiana. Purdue’s victory against Illinois was impressive, due to the fact that there were many points throughout the game, you were asking yourself “How is Illinois, even in this game?” Purdue missed free throws that would have sealed the game at the end of regulation and the first overtime and were still able to leave with a double OT win on the road. However, after a quick turn around on Thursday, Purdue lost a heartbreaker against the Hoosiers, for Indiana’s first win over Purdue in their last nine attempts. Losing on the road to a good team like Indiana isn’t overly concerning, however if Purdue wants to win to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 1980 there are some things to fix. Number one is their defense, as the Boilers gave up 69 points in regulation to Illinois, and 64 points to Indiana. Also late in games, Purdue needs future NBA lottery pick Jaden Ivey to want the ball and hunt shots, but it hasn’t worked up to this point. As great of a playmaker Trevion Williams is in the post, you need your top shot creator to have the ball in his hands late. Thankfully, Purdue was able to get back in the win column without Jaden Ivey on Sunday against Northwestern.
8. UCLA (13-2)
It's been a wild two weeks at UCLA, where the Bruins lost at home to Oregon with no fans in the stands, only to go on the road and sweep Utah and Colorado in full, visiting arenas. After over a month off with a COVID pause it is road wins like this, that are exactly what UCLA needed to get some confidence back. Another great sign is that Johnny Juzang is starting to regain some of the form we saw in the 2021 NCAA Tournament as he has scored 20 points or more in each of his last 4 games. Thankfully, UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond did announce that Bruin fans will be back in attendance, just in time for Tuesday Night’s showcase against Arizona.
9. Duke (15-3)
The Blue Devils lost their third game of the season this past Tuesday in heartbreaking fashion against Florida State in overtime. With the Blue Devils leading by two late, RayQuan Evans was able to get all the way to the rim and finish over Paolo Banchero to send the game to overtime, which ultimately led to a victory for the Seminoles. Although Florida State has turned it around recently, this loss felt way too similar to Duke’s losses earlier in the season against Ohio State and Miami. Duke is leading throughout the game, but fails to separate and throw the last knockout punch, which keeps their opponent in the game and the rest is history. Despite finishing with 20 points, Future top 3 NBA Draft Pick Paolo Banchero didn’t attempt a shot in the second half until there was about five minutes left in the game and also didn’t shoot on the final possession. As great of a season as Wendell Moore is having, Duke fans will be sick to their stomach if they are eliminated in March without Paolo getting a shot on the final possession in a close game. Although the teams and situations are totally different, it feels almost similar to Zion Williamson’s Duke team in 2019, as it seemed like it was RJ Barrett who would take the final shot more times than not. Duke was able to get back into the win column on Saturday, against a struggling Syracuse team behind the breakout out AJ Griffin, who finished with 15 points on five three-pointers made.
10. Kentucky (15-4)
Following Saturday’s loss to Auburn, it was the second time this SECseason where Kentucky found themselves asking “What If?” as they were leaving the floor. Freshman guard TyTy Washington, left Saturday’s game against Auburn with an ankle injury after just playing nine minutes and Sahvir Wheeler also left the game briefly after a hard collision to Walker Kessler - almost an identical situation to what happened when the Wildcats played at LSU and both were lost for the game as well. What makes this game so frustrating, is that when Kentucky has been at full strength recently, they have looked like a really good team, which includes this game against Auburn. Kellen Grady’s shooting continues to make a big impact, and when you combine that with another elite scorer in Washington and such a dominant big in Oscar Tshiebwe, there is a legitimate reason to be excited about Big Blue. However, it is just frustrating we haven’t seen that team at full strength against the SEC’s best, aside from last Saturday against Tennessee - and oh by the way, Kentucky put up 107 points in that game. Kentucky deserves credit for finding a way to win on Tuesday in a tough road environment at Texas A&M.
11. Texas Tech (15-4)
After losing a frustrating game last week against Kansas State, Mark Adams' team was able to earn a pair of home victories over tournament teams in Iowa State and West Virginia. In a similar way to Auburn, Texas Tech Basketball has built a legitimate home court advantage in Lubbock. Although Chris Beard was the one who built a lot of this and is no longer here, Texas Tech deserves so much credit for sticking with the same DNA that made this program so successful, which includes continuing to win this season despite injuries to its two best players - Terrence Shannon Jr. and Kevin McCullar - at various points. Guys like Bryson Williams and Adonis Arms who played at the mid major level last year, are contributing in a big time way which en route back to the top of the Big 12. With a trip to Lawrence Kansas upcoming, Texas Tech will have a chance at the biggest stage on Monday Night with an opportunity to make a statement.
12. Providence (16-2)
Ed Cooley’s team returned to the floor this past week, after their previous three games had been postponed due to COVID. In the process, Providence picked up wins over Georgetown and Butler which aren't necessarily going to drastically improve the Friras resume but was a good warm up after the pause, with Xavier on Wednesday. In Sunday’s win against Butler, four different Friars scored in double digits, including Jared Bynum and Ed Croswell who both came off the bench. While playing in a league as hard as the Big East it is reasonable that a few losses will come for the Friars, but despite the COVID pause all these guys have done is win and play quality basketball. Which warrants a spot this high in these rankings.
13. Wisconsin (15-3)
Many people have been waiting for a while to see when the eventual flat spot would come for a Wisconsin team that was one of the hottest teams in all of college basketball. Unfortunately for the Badgers that spot came on Friday, when the Badgers were missing one of their key contributors in Tyler Wahl, and fell at home to Michigan State. However, considering Wisconsin had played in and won all five of their previous games which all came in a short span of 15 days this loss doesn’t really say much about just how good this team is. In addition, Michigan State had a full week off following a loss to Northwestern two Saturday's ago, which made sense as the Spartans came out as the hungrier team. What is so encouraging for Wisconsin is the fact that other players around National Player of the Year favorite Johnny Davis have really started to play well. Wahl was right on top of that list as he averages 11 points and 6 rebounds per game and his presence alone are valuable to the flow of Wisconsin offense. The Badgers will have some much-needed time off, as a trip to Lincoln Nebraska looms on Thursday. Greg Gard is the current favorite for Big Ten Coach of the Year and continues to do a great job keeping this program rolling, seven years after the retirement of Bo Ryan, despite rarely receiving any credit in the process.
14. Villanova (14-5)
In one of the more eye-opening results of the college basketball season up to this point, Villanova fell 57-54 at home to Marquette, after Justin Lewis hit a three-pointer with under 10 seconds left to give Marquette the victory. Incredibly, it was just Villanova’s second home loss in conference at Finneran Pavilion since the realignment of the new Big East in 2014. That is just how rare Villanova losing a game at Finneran is. Villanova returned to the court on Saturday against Georgetown, and despite struggling early, came away with a win. More than anything, this week showed the value of veteran guard Collin Gillespie. In the win over Georgetown Gillespie finished with 28 points, but had just eight in the loss to Marquette. Villanova has two winnable home games this week against DePaul and St. John's.
15. Michigan State (15-3)
For the first time all season, Michigan State came out in a game against a top notch opponent and enforced their will on Friday Night against Wisconsin (Yes, I know, the Spartans did pick up a big marquee victory in November against UConn, but there were a few controversial calls in the game and the Huskies were without starter Isaiah Whaley). However, against Wisconsin while playing in a very tough road environment in the Kohl Center, Michigan State took off about midway through the first half and never looked back. While Wisconsin had played five games in 15 days going into this one, Michigan State was on the opposite end of the break. The Spartans came into this game off of their puzzling loss against Northwestern, and there is about a 100% chance, Tom Izzo let his team know about it in practice. Heavily hyped freshman guard Max Christie is really starting to play his best basketball and is starting to look more and pro like the future pro many people have labeled him with. It was a balanced scoring effort for the Spartans against Wisconsin, as they had five different players score in double digits, including freshman Jaden Akins who hit 2 clutch threes in the game. With the Big Ten looking a little jumbled and inconsistent at the moment, expect Tom Izzo’s squad to make a big push with his pieces starting to fit together nicely.
16. USC (16-2)
Following their first two losses of the season last week, USC was able to get back in the win column this week, sweeping Colorado and Utah on the road. Most outside the Pacific and Mountain time zones don't understand how hard that trip is, with both games coming at altitude in a short window. USC now returns back to Los Angeles where they will play three games in the next six days, before a showdown with Arizona two Saturday's from now. Unfortunately, the Trojans are still only allowed 50 percent capacity in the stands for their three-game home-stand, per school policy.
17. Illinois (13-5)
The Ililni played in one of the best games of the season on Martin Luther King Day against Purdue. Even though it ended in a loss, there were some positives, as Illinois was still able to get the game to overtime despite big man Kofi Cockburn being limited to 10 points in only 22 minutes of action. However, guard Andre Curbelo returned to the lineup after being out of action since November, and the preseason All-Big Ten guard looked the part with 20 points and six rebounds. Unfortunately for the Illini, they also fell in their game on Friday Night against Maryland, but it's worth noting that they were without Cockburn in that game due to injury. Still, with Curbelo back and the shot making ability of Trent Frazier, Alfonso Plummer and Jacob Grandison, combined with Kofi, this is another team that fits perfectly together, and could easily be playing on the final weekend of the season.
18. UConn (13-4)
In the same week where many of its Big East competitors took at least one loss, UConn was able to pick up a pair of wins over Butler, as they swept their home and home series. It seems like this UConn team has been trying to get back to full strength for a while now and they may have just finally got there. After suffering an abdominal injury, Adama Sanogo is starting to round back into Big East Player of the Year type form. The big man had 15 points and 9 rebounds in Tuesday Night's road win against Butler. In addition, Tyrese Martin, who was the other Husky dealing with injuries, had 27 points in the same victory. Dan Hurley has so many different options to go to in a big spot, and when UConn is at full strength like we have seen lately there is no reason to think that this team cannot win the Big East Conference. UConn has hit an easier stretch in their schedule with these 2 games against Butler, followed by games vs Georgetown, at DePaul and vs Creighton, which will be followed by a trip to Villanova on the Saturday before the Super Bowl. If the Huskies can take advantage of that stretch, which they should, that Villanova game could prove to be huge. As great of a league as the Big East in terms of its depth, there may not be a legitimate National Championship Contender… unless this UConn team reaches their ceiling. With everyone healthy, if any team in the Big East could accomplish that, it would be the deep and talented squad that Hurley has assembled.
19. LSU (15-4)
It has been a rough, rough stretch for Will Wade’s squad of late. Following their loss to Tennessee on Saturday Night, LSU has now lost three games in a row, and desperately needs to get healthy. Darius Days was at less than 100 percent on Saturday after going down with an ankle injury against Alabama mid-week, and that's on top of Xavier Pinson, who has now missed four straight games since injuring himself in the first Tennessee matchup a few weeks ago. Despite the injuries LSU has managed to start SEC play 3-4, which doesn't sound great, but considering the injuries, and that all seven games came against tournament caliber teams, it isn't terrible either. Now the schedule eases up a little bit for Will Wade and company, with a home game coming up against Texas A&M.
20. Colorado State (15-1)
It was pretty frustrating not seeing Niko Medved’s Rams in last week's AP Top 25 poll. Colorado State is now 15-1 overall and 5-1 in Mountain West Conference Play, following Saturday’s blowout win against Air Force. This start to the season marks the best start to a season in terms of overall record in the history of the program. Against Air Force forward, David Roddy had 21 points, but also threw down on the dunks of the season in the victory. This kid is appointment television and would get a ton more people talking about him if he didn’t play in the Mountain West Conference. What makes this Mountain West so interesting, is the fact that there isn’t much separation between these Rams and Boise State and some other teams at the top. Right now, Boise is 6-0 in conference play compared to 5-1 for Colorado State, and unfortunately these two teams will not play until their very last game of the regular season on March 5th in Fort Collins. However, as long as they have David Roddy and Niko Medved it is hard not to consider Colorado State as the team to beat in the Mountain West. The Rams were also to pick up a nice six-point win over New Mexico this past week, as they have turned Moby Arena into one of the better home court advantages in all of college basketball.
21. Ohio State (12-4)
It wasn’t the most eventful week for Chris Holtmann and Ohio State, where Ohio State beat up on IUPUI - but things get much tougher with back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Purdue followed by a home tilt versus Iowa in the next three games. One thing is for certain about the Buckeyes, and it is that Holtmann will always have his teams playing hard and overachieving. However, it is still unknown just exactly how good this Ohio State team is. On one hand, they have really good wins over Duke and Seton Hall, however they have lost all of their road games against good teams by pretty significant margins. Until Ohio State can show that next gear, or earn a big time win in conference play, it is hard to put them at the top of Big Ten with some of the others like Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan State. The chance to get into that top tier will be right there though, with games against 3 of those 4 teams scheduled before the end of the season. When you have a player as good as EJ Liddell, you are going to need some other guys to step up in the process, when opponents are starting to focus more and more on him. Although underclassmen Malaki Branham and Zed Key have had really productive seasons and are only getting better, do the Buckeyes have enough besides Liddell to win in a big-time way still be a question. In another piece of good news, senior forward Justice Sueing is close to returning from an early season abdominal injury, which would be a massive deal for the Buckeyes.
22. Xavier (14-4)
The Musketeers dropped their fourth game of the season on Sunday afternoon in a tough Big East clash on the road against Marquette. After trailing by four points at the half, Xavier was locked in to start the second half, hitting its first five shots in the process but only shot 5 of 26 from the field for the rest of the game which resulted in a loss. Over the past few years, Travis Steele’s teams have always been very talented, but they will always have disappointing losses that will make you want to pull the plug. Now, the talent on this Xavier team is significantly better than any of Steele’s teams in the past and it’s not like losing on the road at Marquette was a bad loss. However, for the loss to come just shortly after you were lucky to win a road game against DePaul and letting Marquette shoot 47% from the field isn’t ideal. Xavier sometimes feels like a team that will play up or down to their competition and there isn’t more of a frustrating feeling watching teams like that as a sports fan. Despite the loss, Xavier is still in a very good position to finish towards the top of the Big East standings. This is still a team that has eight different guys who can give you buckets on any night and Marquette was the first team not named Villanova to beat the Musketeers since November 24th. The Cintas Center and all of the Xavier fans should be ready for a big game at home on Wednesday Night against Providence.
23. Tennessee (13-5)
Although it has been a very frustrating season for Tennessee at times, the Vols have also had some really nice moments like we saw on Saturday. After watching both marquee Vols home games against Arizona and LSU, there can’t be many better big game environments in college basketball than Thompson Boling Arena. The Vols did a really good job, using that crowd to their advantage, as they started Saturday’s game on a 8-0 run and never looked back. All junior guard Santiago Vescovi has done since he got to Knoxville is improve, and that continued on Saturday, where he led the way with 16 points and 5 rebounds. Another great sign for Tennessee, was the play of Kennedy Chandler who was distributing the ball efficiently with six assists and only one turnover. One thing Rick Barnes has made clearly obvious, is that he is going to play the players that give his team the best chance to succeed. Guys like John Fulkerson and Justin Powell, who many expected to be big time contributors for the Vols only played a combined 24 minutes against LSU. On the other hand, it is Three-star freshman guard Zakai Zeigler and 4th year college player Uros Plavsic who are making the most of their opportunities. The two combined for 17 important points, which included the big three pointer by Zeigler to basically ice the game for Tennessee to secure the big conference victory.
24. Davidson (16-2)
Bob McKillop's Wildcats were able to secure a pair of conference victories this past week, to advance the nation's longest winning streak to an eye popping 15 games. One of those victories included a big road victory over VCU, in which Davidson was able to earn the victory after finding themselves trailing by four with about 3 and a half minutes to play. Davidson has found a way to master the ability of winning close games as each of their last 3 games have gone down to the wire and ended in victories. Even against Fordham, Davidson found themselves trailing by seven after playing a sleepy first half, but were able to turn it up a notch to end the game with a victory. Although playing in this many close games eventually won’t end well, having the ability to win time after time in high pressure situations is valuable. This Wildcats team has a ton of big time shot makers, which works perfectly in this offense. They have four players who are not only scoring in double digits, but are also shooting over 40% from three. This includes a future NBA player in Hyunjung Lee, Michigan State transfer Foster Loyer, and Mike Jones who is shooting an eye popping 50% from three on the season. With St. Bonaventure underachieving compared to expectations, these Wildcats are the team to beat in the A10 as Bob McKillop's squad continues to win games.
25. Marquette (14-6)
There is not a hotter team in the Big East and maybe at the entire Power 6 level than Shaka Smart and his Marquette Golden Eagles. Marquette has now picked up 3 consecutive wins over Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier in a 8-day span, which also shortly followed Marquette’s blowout victory over Providence on January 4th. Ever since Marquette’s early season win over Illinois, the job Shaka has done with this group has been eye opening as anytime you watch the dude coach the energy he provides is apparent. Marquette players are really starting to get better under Smart, and Justin Lewis is at the top of the list. The 6’7 second year Golden Eagle has been scoring the ball in a big time way, which has included 20 and 21 points in Marquette’s last two victories. As stated earlier, Marquette’s victory on Tuesday was Villanova’s second home loss in conference, taken at Finneran Pavilion, since the realignment of the new Big East in 2014. For Marquette to go on the road, in that environment in Shaka Smart’s first year on the job is beyond incredible. This has been the perfect marriage for both sides, when you consider Shaka’s natural fit in Milwaukee and the fact that Marquette has been significantly better with this team that Shaka put together, compared to the very talented past teams of the Wojo era.
Follow Zac on Twitter @ZKrull3